Na Bocánaigh, Na Bánánaigh

An Bocánach

Na Bocánaigh, Na Bánánaigh

Supernatural male and female beings closely associated with warfare, violence and death found in Irish, Scottish and Manx mythology and folklore.


All spelling, names and terms in Modern Irish unless stated otherwise.

The modern singular, plural and alternative forms of the names are:

Bocánach (gs. & npl. Bocánaigh, gpl. Bocánach) “Goblin, demon”

[alt. ver. Bocán gs. & npl. Bocáin, gpl. Bocán]

Bánánach (gs. & npl. Bánánaigh, gpl. Bánánach) “Female demon, spectre”

[alt. ver. Bánán gs. & npl. Bánáin, gpl. Bánán]


Reoccurring supernatural creatures in early Irish and Scottish literature, the Bocánaigh were airborne shrieking demons that haunted battlefields and areas of combat encouraging and exulting in the bloodshed below (monastic scribes sometimes glossed their names in Latin as “demons of the air“). They may have had a goat-like appearance or a goat’s head suggesting a derivation from bocán pocán “male goat”(also boc / poc “buck, he-goat”). In modern literature, particularly Fantasy fiction, they are sometimes equated with the Fomhóraigh though this is open to debate. In some Middle Irish texts the Fomhóraigh are described as having the heads of goats but the Bocánaigh seem to have been a more elemental form of spirit closely associated with violence and violent death. The relative uniqueness of the Bocánaigh in the Medieval Judeo-Christian tradition makes it very likely that they derive from the indigenous mythological beliefs of the Gaelic-speaking peoples.

There is the possibility of a link between the literary Bócanaigh and the rather mysterious Gabharchinn as well as the better known folkloric Púcaí, not dissimilar elemental creatures from the late traditions of Ireland, Scotland and Mann. The invariably hostile Púcaí can appear in goat-like form and it may be that in part they are a distant echo of the mythological and arguably pre-Christian Bocánaigh.

Na Bánánaigh

The Bánánaigh were supernatural beings generally imagined as screaming female demons or spectres, drawn by violence to circle the skies over areas of combat. They usually accompanied the Bocánaigh in early Irish texts. The name itself has been interpreted several ways with suggested derivations from bean / ban “woman, wife”, ban “female-” (a prefix), or bán “white, pale, fair” (one suggested translation is “pale-face female”, as in the paleness associated with a corpse). Though occasionally equated with the Fomhóraigh in contemporary use this is erroneous.

Given that several female figures belonging to the Tuatha Dé Danann are closely associated with warfare and in a form similar to that of the Bánánaigh (the Mórríon, the Badhbh Chatha, Neamhain, Macha, etc.) there is little doubt that they belong to the same community of Otherworld beings. Furthermore, it is certain that the modernish Hiberno-English folklore being, the Banshee (Bean Sí, literally “Otherworld Woman”), has inherited something of the tradition of the Bánánaigh, albeit mixed with other legendary influences.

While comparisons between the Bánánaigh and the Scandinavian Valkyrjer (the Norwegian name for the Valkyries) are obvious (and probably correct) there may also be some similarities with the Trolls of Germanic tradition. These supernatural beings in the original Germanic and Scandinavian myths are very different from their folkloric descendants. While often monstrous in form they are exclusively female, closely associated with violent death, and are sexually promiscuous with both humans and giants (but not, significantly, the gods). With their attraction to violence and sex (and occasional monstrous guises) the various “war-goddesses” of Irish mythology do bear some resemblance to the original female trolls of Scandinavia, Germany and England.

An Bean Si - the Banshee, the Washer at the Ford
An Bean Sí – the Banshee, the Washer at the Ford

© An Sionnach Fionn


Online Sources For The Above Articles:

  1. Warriors, Words, and Wood: Oral and Literary Wisdom in the Exploits of Irish Mythological Warriors by Phillip A. Bernhardt-House
  2. Irish Perceptions of the Cosmos by Liam Mac Mathúna
  3. Water Imagery in Early Irish by Kay Muhr
  4. The Bluest-Greyest-Greenest Eye: Colours of Martyrdom and Colours of Winds as Iconographic Landscape by Alfred K. Siewers
  5. Fate in Early Irish Texts by Jacqueline Borsje
  6. Druids, Deer and “Words of Power”: Coming to Terms with Evil in Medieval Ireland by Jacqueline Borsje
  7. Geis, Prophecy, Omen and Oath by T. M. Charles-Edwards
  8. Geis, a literary motif in early Irish literature by Qiu Fangzhe
  9. Honour-bound: The Social Context of Early Irish Heroic Geis by Philip O’Leary
  10. Space and Time in Irish Folk Rituals and Tradition by Lijing Peng and Qiu Fangzhe
  11. The Use of Prophecy in the Irish Tales of the Heroic Cycle by Caroline Francis Richardson
  12. Early Irish Taboos as Traditional Communication: A Cognitive Approach by Tom Sjöblom
  13. Monotheistic to a Certain Extent: The ‘Good Neighbours’ of God in Ireland by Jacqueline Borsje
  14. The ‘Terror of the Night’ and the Morrígain: Shifting Faces of the Supernatural by Jacqueline Borsje
  15. Brigid: Goddess, Saint, ‘Holy Woman’, and Bone of Contention by C.M. Cusack
  16. War-goddesses, furies and scald crows: The use of the word badb in early Irish literature by Kim Heijda
  17. The Enchanted Islands: A Comparison of Mythological Traditions from Ireland and Iceland by Katarzyna Herd
  18. The Early Irish Fairies and Fairyland by Norreys Jephson O’ Conor
  19. The Washer at the Ford by Gertrude Schoepperle
  20. Milk Symbolism in the ‘Bethu Brigte’ by Thomas Torma
  21. Conn Cétchathach and the Image of Ideal Kingship in Early Medieval Ireland by Grigory Bondarenko
  22. King in Exile in Airne Fíngein (Fíngen’s Vigil): Power and Pursuit in Early Irish Literature by Grigory Bondarenko
  23. Sacral Elements of Irish Kingship by Daniel Bray
  24. Kingship in Early Ireland by Charles Doherty
  25. The King as Judge in Early Ireland by Marilyn Gerriets
  26. The Saintly Madman: A Study of the Scholarly Reception History of Buile Suibhne by Alexandra Bergholm
  27. Fled Bricrenn and Tales of Terror by Jacqueline Borsje
  28. Supernatural Threats to Kings: Exploration of a Motif in the Ulster Cycle and in Other Medieval Irish Tales by Jacqueline Borsje
  29. Human Sacrifice in Medieval Irish Literature by Jacqueline Borsje
  30. Demonising the Enemy: A study of Congall Cáech by Jacqueline Borsje
  31. The Evil Eye’ in early Irish literature by Jacqueline Borsje and Fergus Kelly
  32. The Irish National Origin-Legend: Synthetic Pseudohistory by John Carey
  33. “Transmutations of Immortality in ‘The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare'” by John Carney
  34. Approaches to Religion and Mythology in Celtic Studies by Clodagh Downey
  35. ‘A Fenian Pastime’?: early Irish board games and their identification with chess by Timothy Harding
  36. Orality in Medieval Irish Narrative: An Overview by Joseph Falaky Nagy
  37. Oral Life and Literary Death in Medieval Irish Tradition by Joseph Falaky Nagy
  38. Satirical Narrative in Early Irish Literature by Ailís Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh
  39. Lia Fáil: Fact and Fiction in the Tradition by Tomás Ó Broin
  40. Irish Myths and Legends by Tomás Ó Cathasaigh
  41. ‘Nation’ Consciousness in Early Medieval Ireland by Miho Tanaka
  42. Bás inEirinn: Cultural Constructions of Death in Ireland by Lawrence Taylor
  43. Ritual and myths between Ireland and Galicia. The Irish Milesian myth in the Leabhar Gabhála Éireann: Over the Ninth Wave. Origins, contacts and literary evidence by Monica Vazquez
  44. Continuity, Cult and Contest by John Waddell
  45. Cú Roí and Svyatogor: A Study in Chthonic by Grigory Bondarenko
  46. Autochthons and Otherworlds in Celtic and Slavic by Grigory Bondarenko
  47. The ‘Terror of the Night’ and the Morrígain: Shifting Faces of the Supernatural by Jacqueline Borsje
  48. ‘The Otherworld in Irish Tradition,’ by John Carey
  49. The Location of the Otherworld in Irish Tradition by John Carey
  50. Prophecy, Storytelling and the Otherworld in Togail Bruidne Da Derga by Ralph O’ Connor
  51. The Evil Eye’ in early Irish literature by Jacqueline Borsje and Fergus Kelly
  52. Rules and Legislation on Love Charms in Early Medieval Ireland by Jacqueline Borsje
  53. Marriage in Early Ireland by Donnchadh Ó Corráin
  54. The Human Head in Insular Pagan Celtic Religion by Anne Ross
  55. Gods in the Hood by Angelique Gulermovich Epstein
  56. The Names of the Dagda by Scott A Martin
  57. The Morrigan and Her Germano-Celtic Counterparts by Angelique Gulermovich Epstein
  58. The Meanings of Elf, and Elves, in Medieval England by Alaric Timothy Peter Hall
  59. Elves (Ashgate Encyclopaedia) by Alaric Timothy Peter Hall
  60. The Evolution of the Otherworld: Redefining the Celtic Gods for a Christian Society by Courtney L. Firman
  61. Warriors and Warfare – Ideal and Reality in Early Insular Texts by Brian Wallace
  62. Images of Warfare in Bardic Poetry by Katharine Simms
  63. Rí Éirenn, Rí Alban, Kingship and Identity in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries by Máire Herbert
  64. Aspects of Echtra Nerai by Mícheál Ó Flaithearta
  65. The Ancestry of Fénius Farsaid by John Carey
  66. CELT (Corpus of Electronic Texts) – published texts
  67. Mary Jones (Celtic Literature Collective) – translations

Printed Sources For The Above Articles:

  1. The Gaelic Finn Tradition by Sharon J. Arbuthnot and Geraldine Parsons
  2. An Introduction to Early Irish Literature by Muireann Ní Bhrolcháin
  3. Lebar Gabala: Recension I by John Carey
  4. The Irish National Origin-Legend: Synthetic Pseudohistory by John Carey
  5. Studies in Irish Literature and History by James Carney
  6. Ancient Irish Tales by Tom P. Cross and Clark Harris Slover
  7. Early Irish Literature by Myles Dillon
  8. Irish Sagas by Myles Dillon
  9. Cycle of the Kings by Myles Dillon
  10. Early Irish Myths and Sagas by Jeffrey Gantz
  11. The Celtic Heroic Age by John T Koch and John Carey (Editors)
  12. Landscapes of Cult and Kingship by Roseanne Schot, Conor Newman and Edel Bhreathnach (Editors)
  13. The Banshee: The Irish Death Messenger by Patricia Lysaght
  14. The Learned Tales of Medieval Ireland by Proinsias Mac Cana
  15. The Festival of Lughnasa: A Study of the Survival of the Celtic Festival of the Beginning of Harvest by Máire MacNeill
  16. Pagan Past and Christian Present in Early Irish Literature by Kim McCone
  17. The Wisdom of the Outlaw by Joseph Falaky Nagy
  18. Conversing With Angels and Ancients by Joseph Falaky Nagy
  19. From Kings to Warlords by Katharine Simms
  20. Gods and Heroes of the Celts by Marie-Louise Sjoestedt (trans Myles Dillon)
  21. The Year in Ireland by Kevin Danaher
  22. In Ireland Long Ago by Kevin Danaher
  23. Irish Customs and Beliefs by Kevin Danaher
  24. Cattle in Ancient Ireland by A. T. Lucas
  25. The Sacred Trees of Ireland by A. T. Lucas
  26. The Lore of Ireland: An Encyclopaedia of Myth, Legend and Romance by Dáithí Ó hÓgáin
  27. Irish Superstitions by Dáithí Ó hÓgáin
  28. Irish Folk Custom and Belief by Seán Ó Súillebháin
  29. Armagh and the Royal Centres in Early Medieval Ireland: Monuments, Cosmology and the Past by NB Aitchison
  30. Land of Women: Tales of Sex and Gender from Early Ireland by Lisa Bitel
  31. Irish Kings and High-Kings by John Francis Byrne
  32. Early Irish Kingship and Succession by Bart Jaski
  33. A Guide to Early Irish Law by Fergus Kelly
  34. Early Irish Farming by Fergus Kelly
  35. A Guide to Ogam by Damian McManus
  36. Ireland before the Normans by Dáibhí Ó Cróinín
  37. Early Medieval Ireland: 400-1200 by Dáibhí Ó Cróinín
  38. A New History of Ireland Volume I: Prehistoric and Early Ireland by Dáibhí Ó Cróinín (Editor)
  39. Early Ireland by Michael J O’ Kelly
  40. Cattle Lords & Clansmen by Nerys Patterson
  41. Sex and Marriage in Ancient Ireland by Patrick C Power
  42. Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe by H R Ellis Davidson
  43. The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe by Hilda Ellis Davidson
  44. Lady with a Mead Cup by Michael J Enright
  45. Celtic Mythology by Proinsias Mac Cana

4 comments on “Na Bocánaigh, Na Bánánaigh

  1. My apprentice is a Banshee, a real one. She is pretty nice person and so is her banshee unless a demon or someone dark is around.


    • Also, religions corrupted her origin as demon slayer, as all females who slayed demon like Banshee. Religion turned her into demon because they forbid woman education and how to write to tell the true stories. Religion sucks.


  2. Lad, what’s that ref section in aid of. Its longer than the article Its totally useless lol

    What parts of your article are related to the refs? Cos Ive some of them but they’re nothing to do with what you’re talking about.


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